RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - Virginia lawmakers have rejected a plan to add tolls to Interstate 81 to pay for $2 billion in upgrades that would improve safety and traffic flow.

Legislators moved Thursday to shelve any immediate plans to add tolls or increase regional taxes to pay for improvements to the 325-mile highway that runs along western Virginia.

Lawmakers say they need more time to study potential funding sources, including an increase to the state gas tax.

Before the legislative session started, Gov. Ralph Northam and some Republican lawmakers tentatively backed a plan to add tolls that could cost as much as $50 for trucks and $25 for cars to use the entire highway. But business groups and trucking groups strongly opposed tolls, saying it would stifle commerce.

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01/31/2019 Press Release from the Office of Representative Steve Landes:

RICHMOND, VA – Del. R. Steven Landes, R-Weyers Cave, Vice Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, today introduced a substitute to House Bill 2718, the Interstate 81 Corridor Improvement Program, which was reported out of the House Committee on Transportation with a 20 to 0 vote.

“House Bill 2718 starts the process to solve the challenges we face for the I-81 corridor. The substitute allows us to move forward, while ensuring all stakeholders have an opportunity to voice their concerns and provide input” said Landes. “I am open to any and all solutions to provide the funding necessary to improve I-81. HB 2718, establishes the Interstate 81 Corridor Improvement Fund, a long needed funding source dedicated to providing the resources necessary to address major improvements on I-81; the Interstate 81 Corridor Improvement Program, which will allocate funds, include a financing plan to support the allocations, and will include a schedule for all new projects and strategies identified in a plan adopted by the Board; and the Interstate 81 Committee to identify the most pressing problems on I-81. HB 2718 lays solid foundation to begin the long overdue work to address I-81 improvements.”

The substitute version of House Bill 2718 establishes an Interstate 81 Corridor Improvement Fund and Program. Moneys in the Fund shall be used only for capital, operating, and other improvement costs identified in an Interstate 81 Corridor Improvement Plan adopted by the Commonwealth Transportation Board (Board). The Board will establish an Interstate 81 Committee composed of 15 voting members, including the chairs of planning district commissions for Planning Districts 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7; four members of the House of Delegates; three members of the Senate; and three members representing the Bristol, Salem, and Staunton highway construction districts. The Commissioner of Highways and the Commissioner of Rail and Public Transportation will serve as ex-officio members.

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It establishes the Interstate 81 Corridor Improvement Program, which will at a minimum: allocate year by year the revenues, if any, from the Fund and bond proceeds, if any, backed by the Fund to projects and strategies identified in an Interstate 81 Corridor Improvement Plan adopted by the Board; include a financing plan to support such allocation; and include a schedule for all new projects and strategies identified in an Interstate 81 Corridor Improvement Plan adopted by the Board. Prior to the adoption of such Program, the Board will review the recommendations of and consult with the Committee. The Board will update the Program annually by July 1st and by December 15th of each year, the Board shall report to the General Assembly regarding the status and progress of implementation of the Program. The report will be submitted to the Chairmen of the House Committees on Appropriations and Transportation and the Senate Committees on Finance and Transportation. Prior to the submission of such report each year, the Board will consult with the Committee. The report will include, at a minimum: the safety and performance of the Interstate 81 corridor, including the number of incidents, the average duration of incidents, the number and average duration of incidents involving lane closures, and the person-hours of delay along the Interstate 81 corridor; an assessment of the effectiveness of the operational strategies and capital projects implemented and funded through the Program; the status of capital projects funded through the Program; and the current and projected balances of the Fund.

Additionally, the Interstate 81 Committee created by the bill will review the Interstate 81 Corridor Improvement Plan adopted by the Board on December 5, 2018, as it relates to funding options for improvements to the I-81 corridor and the prioritization of projects in the I-81 corridor. The Committee will conduct regional public meetings on options for funding and improvements and seek input from the public and stakeholder organizations. The Committee will report to the Governor and the General Assembly by December 15, 2019, regarding its recommendations for funding and prioritization of projects.

Landes represents the 25th House District, which includes parts of Albemarle, Augusta, and Rockingham Counties. Landes is currently serving his twelfth term in the Virginia House of Delegates. Visit SteveLandes.com for additional information.